Experts recommend precautions for West Nile virus
As the West Nile Virus continues to creep its way west, local and state officials are advising people to take simple precautions to lessen their chance of infection.
“We’ve had a few cases of meningitis but I haven’t seen any signs of West Nile Virus,” said Dr. Pamela Kinder of Mountain Medical Specialists in Craig. “I keep reminding people that it has not been found in our area or in any people in Colorado.”
The mosquito-born virus, first discovered in New York in 1999, has been working its way west for three years and just hit Colorado this summer.
The quick spread of the disease is attributed to infected birds carrying it to the area.
While many animals can be infected with the disease, including humans, horses are most susceptible to developing the clinical signs and dying from the disease.
Local horse owners have already been advised by state and local veterinarians to get their horses vaccinated for the disease.
Seven horses from Colorado have tested positive for the West Nile Virus. Five are from Weld County, one from Logan County and one from Pueblo County.
While the chances are small, it is possible for a human to be infected by the virus.
“The chances that any one person is going to become ill from a mosquito bite is extremely low,” said Dr. Ned Calonge, the chief medical officer for the Department of Public Health and Environment.
“Although most people do not become ill, for those who do, the time between the mosquito bite and the onset of symptoms ranges from five to 15 days. Most individuals suffer a fever, headaches and lethargy for two to seven days before they recover.”
Kinder said the symptoms she looks for when people come in include fever, nausea, vomiting and problems with cognitive functioning.
The problem is figuring out how to avoid mosquitoes, Kinder said.
“Luckily Blaine (Tucker) keeps them down pretty well,” she said
Tucker flies a plane that sprays for mosquitoes in Moffat County.
“It’s just scary,” Kinder said. “The problem is it’s so unusual. Even if it gets to our area, it’s unusual for someone to be infected but if there is a rare case where someone does become infected, it’s deadly.”
The Moffat County Sheriff’s Department is taking precautions.
“Last week when it first came out that it was in Colorado the emergency manager came to me and said they are urging people to wear long-sleeve shirts and insect repellent,” said Moffat County Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg.
Hoberg said members of the Sheriff’s Department spend significant amounts of time in rural parts of the county where mosquito populations are a bit greater.
“We bought some repellent for everyone, but it’s just precautionary,” he said.
Marilyn Bouldin, director of community care at the Visiting Nurse Association, said the state is encouraging people to bring in specimens of dead birds from the Corvid family, which include crows, magpies, ravens and jays.
The department stressed, she said, not to bring in sparrows, starlings, pigeons, finches, robins and blackbirds, which are not currently being tested.
People should bring in birds that have been dead for less than 48 hours to McCandless Animal Hospital or the V.N.A. The specimens can be brought in a Zip-Loc bag, she said.
“I would encourage people to do this because the state Health Department is trying to maintain a surveillance program,” she said. “This is an important part of that.”
Bouldin said the virus would arrive in Moffat County eventually, but said people should not panic.
“I want to reassure people that the chances of being infected are very rare,” she said. “From those who are bitten by an infected mosquito only one in 150 develop encephalitis.”
Both Kinder and Bouldin said they tell people to take necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
To minimize the chances of being bitten by mosquitoes, The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment advises people to:
Make certain that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or holes in them.
Drain all standing water on private property, no matter how small an amount.
Stock permanent ponds or fountains with fish that eat mosquito larvae.
Change water in birdbaths or wading pools and empty flowerpot saucers of standing water frequently.
Check around faucets and air condition units and repair leaks or eliminating puddles that remain for several days.
Make certain roof gutters drain properly and remove any standing water under or around structures or on flat roofs.
Remove items that could collect water such as old tires, buckets, empty cans and food and beverage containers.
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